New Brunswick

Fredericton mom grateful after son's life-saving bracelet plucked from sewer line

A Fredericton mother, who has a child with autism, is happy to have her son's lifesaving bracelet back after it was flushed down the toilet.

'We didn't think we'd get it back'

York Sunbury Search and Rescue volunteer Dave Blanchard shows a similar bracelet to the one that went missing. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A Fredericton mother, who has a child with autism, is happy to have her son's life-saving bracelet back after it was flushed down the toilet.

Melanie Kesterson's son wears a Project Lifesaver bracelet around his wrist 24 hours a day. It allows members of the York Sunbury Search and Rescue to find him if he runs off, something he has done in the past.

"There's a lot of peace of mind that comes with that little bit of plastic and that little bit of technology behind it," Kesterson said. Her son has worn the bracelet for the last year.

That's why Kesterson panicked when the bracelet went missing earlier in January. 

The bracelet only leaves her son's arm once every 45 days to allow a search and rescue volunteer to change the battery and test that it is working.

Michelle and Dave Blanchard are volunteers with York Sunbury Search and Rescue. (Gary Moore/CBC)

But the maintenance routine is slightly different because of COVID-19.

Michelle Blanchard is the member of the search and rescue team who works directly with Kesterson and her son.

She would normally remove the bracelet from Kesterson's son and immediately put it back on once the battery was checked. 

But with COVID protocols, she has to leave the bracelet for Kesterson to put on her son.

It was during that brief window that the bracelet ended up with Kesterson's son in the bathroom. That's when it disappeared down the toilet.

"First thing I did was go through and check the house to see if it was someplace else — called Michelle when I couldn't find it," Kesterson said. 

When a member from search and rescue arrived at Kesterson's house, he was able to trace the signal. Kesterson knew immediately it was coming from the direction of the sewer lines.

This device is used to locate a person wearing a transmitter bracelet. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Kesterson called the city immediately, but it was too late in the day to reach anybody.

The next day she called again first thing in the morning and city workers arrived shortly after.

"Within 10, 15 minutes he had actually retrieved the device from the manhole, and cleaned it up really, fairly well," she said.

Blanchard went back to Kesterson's house after the device was retrieved and changed the battery again to make sure it was working, and swapped out some parts for good measure.

"So that I wouldn't cringe every time he put it in his mouth, they put a new shell on it for me," Kesterson chuckled.

She said it was amazing that the city worker was able to fish the bracelet out of the sewer line. "We didn't think we'd get it back," she said.

There are about 20 people in the Fredericton region that wear a Program Lifesaver bracelet. They are used by people with autism, Alzheimer's and dementia.

Blanchard is one of 13 people trained with the program. 



Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.